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The Arrivals Terminal at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport was considerable crowded. People of all shapes, sizes, colour and creed, young and old, even children - a couple of them still active and restless well past their bedtime, men and women in all manner of dressing - salwars, saris, burkhas, kurtas, safari-suits, business-suits, saffron-robes, khakis, dhotis, jeans and even a few girls in mini-skirts. Well, you could find all your cast for a "Unity in Diversity" ad-film here, I mused to myself. Not quite, I corrected myself, there are no beggars and rag-picking children, but then they never were a part of such ads. Well, what's missing is your quintessential neta-type - I looked around for the much-reviled species. Another unwanted species is in much abundance here I registered - the khaki-clad policemen. The crowd is fairly representative of all the regions of India, but almost all of them seem to speak in one language, English or the Indianised version mixed with some vernacular (Inglish?). Another thing, they all have a common goal I mused - everyone had an air of expectancy about them, well, except a couple of guys dozing off on the chairs.

My amusing thoughts were interrupted by an exasperated voice, "Why is it taking so long?" It came from my companion, Adi. The question wasn't addressed at anyone in particular, so I just kept mum. A quick glance at the watch informed me that it's now 25 minutes since the announcement of the landing of the Air France flight. It's not out of ordinary for the flight's passengers to take half an hour to get past the immigration and customs. I was besides myself with anticipation, but I tried to keep myself collected. Adi is pacing - I wondered why he is so worked up. And I wondered how Sid's taking it. Sid or Siddharth as he's known to friends and family, is the elder brother of my friend, Adi. At the moment, Adi and his family are my hosts in New Delhi and I've accompanied Adi to the airport to fetch his brother, who had moments earlier flown in from Paris.

Our acquaintance goes a long way back - another time, another place - but I will be seeing Sid after many years. From what little I've gathered, Sid is still single at 32 and a successful surgeon in Luxembourgh. I'm told that hasn't changed much, but I could hardly expect him to be the 19 year-old that I last remember him as. Back then, the brothers with just the two years separating them were almost split-images of each other - just a couple of inches in height to differentiate them, Sid was taller at 6'1". If I went by how Adi looks today, I'll be in for a rude shock, Adi had put on quite a lot of weight and he looks older than his 30 years. To be very fair to Adi, he's still an attractive chap despite his extra baggage, but I'd be very disappointed if Sid too looks like him.

Another time, another place - seventeen years ago in a small town called Shillong, in the North-Eastern Indian state of Meghalya. I was an impressionable 13 year old, my very first day at a new school. I was befriended by this boy who sat next to me - he too was new to the school - his name was Aditya Dhingra and he wanted me to call him Adi. Adi was new to the town, his family had only recently moved in to Shillong, following his father's posting here. After school, we walked out together and at the school gate we bade each other goodbye. Just outside the gate, Adi's brother was waiting for him - well, we weren't introduced to each other, but it wasn't difficult to place him. That was the first time I laid my eyes on Sid. I don't think, I thought much of him that very first day. I guess I must've noticed his height and his likeness to Adi. And I must've guessed that he was our senior at school. But I guess that would be about all.

As the school year passed, me and Adi became the best of friends, we were almost inseparable. I see Sid often, but we hardly spoke to one other. I didn't take much note of Sid in the first few months - he was just there and Sid too, on his part ignored me - but as the academic year progressed it became hard not to notice Sid. Sid was everywhere - he excelled in academics, sports and other curricular activities in school - he was almost larger-than-life and I began to be attracted by Sid. I longed to be recognised by him and I longed to be inside his charmed circle. I tried getting close to him through Adi, but that was not to be - Adi resented the attention Sid was getting. I valued Adi's friendship and so I only admired and worshiped Sid from afar. Well, I attempted to strike up a conversation twice or thrice but I was unsuccessful at it. It wasn't that Sid was aloof or arrogant, I guess he just didn't see me to be much more than a pest, like Adi was to him.

Around the same time, I was going through my sexual awakening, I was finding out that I was sexually attracted to good-looking males. I was becoming aware of how different I was - the other boys were all agog about the girls and the female body, but my interest were in the male form. My hormones were raging and Sid was just there, looming large, providing an ideal muse for my fantasies - I hardly noticed my hero-worship turning to infatuation. It was a confusing time - I was both excited and ashamed of my feelings for Sid. I felt that I couldn't afford to let my feelings be known, but I couldn't stop myself from thinking about Sid in sexual light. I was so infatuated that there was a time when I sniffed Sid's clothes when I was left on my own by Adi, alone for some time in the room he shared with Sid. I wasn't particularly proud of that memory.

It was only a year later that Sid warmed up to me. It was a Good Friday, the day being a school holiday I was invited over by Adi to their place. On reaching, I found Sid home alone - Adi had gone with his parents to Guwahati, a town three hours drive away, to fetch his visiting maternal grandmother. It seems Adi had forgotten all about me, only to remember en route to Guwahati - he had called Sid to tell me he was very sorry. Sid was nice to me, he wouldn't let me go without resting a bit and some refreshments. We made small talk while we waited for the orderly to come with Sid's "something cold for us to drink". It was a bit intimidating, I couldn't keep my eyes away from his certain body areas - it didn't help that he was in a one-size-too-small shorts and a tank-top that showed off his athletic body very well. I was lucky that all the while, Sid head was bowed down, he had been tuning his guitar.

When the guitar's tuning was done, he strummed Simon & Garfunkel's 'A Bridge over Troubled Waters', softly humming along. It was one of my favourites and I told him so. "Aren't you too young to appreciate this kind of music?" he quizzed. "I love almost all their songs - 'The Sound of Silence.' is my favourite." I said, trying to ignore his condescending look. " Great. Can you sing it?" he asked me and I nodded in affirmative. "Then accompany me with vocal harmonies - Paul Simon's part." he instructed me and started singing the first stanza of 'The Sound of Silence' solo. I joined in on the second stanza onwards.

"Wow! You're very good. It's the best duet I've ever sung." his face brightened up after the song. It was the best duet I've ever sung for me too - I gave my very best, it had felt like an audition of a life time, all through the song my eyes never left his lips, alert and ready to anticipate every nuance and every syllable that was coming out of him. I smiled happily. "You have a nice singing voice and a great sense of timing." he praised me. "Thank you. " I said blushing away.

We continued discussing about music - we had similar tastes. Soon we were having animated discussion about other topics as well - the drinks had come and gone, we had sung a few more songs. And then I realised that I'd been there for over two hours. I hoped that I haven't overstayed my welcome and made a move to excuse myself. "You don't need to hurry, do you?" Sid asked " Adi should be here any minute." He asked me to stay back and I did, we kept each other company for another half an hour and then Adi, his parents and grandma arrived and I was bereft of Sid's company. When Adi joined us, Sid went out to receive his grandma and disappeared thereafter - I came back home that day without even getting to thank him for his hospitality.

After that fateful day, Sid and I became friends of sorts. We got along well, but it wasn't really a friendship of peers like the one I have with Adi - there was always this distance. He was kind of patronizing - he got me to perform a duet with him at the Parent's Day celebration, persuaded me to act a minor role in a school-play he directed, and participate in debate competition. For my part, I combated my stage-fright to be as close to Sid as was possible - the only avenue I could not join Sid was in sports, 'bad' was an understatement, I stank at it. We spent a few holidays in each other's company - treks, picnics and movies - with or without Adi in tow. All throughout I had constructed this imaginary wall between us - two reasons for that. Firstly, I don't want to antagonize Adi by being too friendly with Sid as there's no love lost between the brothers. Secondly, I couldn't afford to let my guard down around Sid and let him get wind of my secret desires for him. That year was Sid's last year in school - I saw less of Sid as the year progressed as he got busy with his preparations for the school-leaving matriculation exams. The academic year went by and Sid performed very well in his exams - nothing much had changed, my preoccupation with Sid didn't abate and he was still in the dark about it. The following year, Sid joined college - we still see each other, but less.

Things continued the same between us, without much hitch or incidence, for the next two years - well, I suffered minor heartbreaks in silence. Once when he said something nasty about gays and later when I learnt of the couple of times Sid dated Aditi, one of my cousin's friends. Soon, too soon, time flew by and Adi and I left school to join Sid's college, by which time Sid had to leave for Delhi to pursue medical studies. He came to visit Shillong after some months during the Dushera holidays for a fortnight and that was the last time I saw him - a tall, achingly handsome, 19 year old with so much ahead of him. It never occurred to me that I won't be seeing him again for a long time to come - a folly of my youth. Two years later, Adi too left - his family was moving to Delhi. Adi and I kept in touch, I learned that Sid's doing very well and that Adi has got himself admitted to a business school in Pune. I too had moved away from Shillong to Ranchi, where I studied to become a doctor just like Sid. The initial steady flow of mails gradually turned into a trickle and then finally stopped. I guess we all were busy with our own separate lives, new places, new friends, different experiences. We were completely out of touch for more than a decade and then out of the blue, just three months from now, I received a call from Adi.

It was a freak incident. I'm now a practicing gynaecologist in a Kolkata hospital. One of my patients' husband works for a company that uses Adi's firm for consultancy - it so happened that this man had to be away in Delhi for some urgent business matter while his wife went into labour. On learning about his wife's condition the ...

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